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Digitized collections elucidate invasion history and patterns of awn polymorphism in Microstegium vimineum


Craig F. Barrett
Zoe A. Bender
Trezalka A. Budinsky
Cameron W. Corbett
Maribeth Latvis
Michael R. McKain
M'Kayla Motley
Samuel V Skibicki
Hana L. Thixton
Mathilda V Santee
Aubrey N. Cumberledge



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Northern Research Station


American Journal of Botany


Premise: Digitized collections can help illuminate the mechanisms behind the establishment and spread of invasive plants. These databases provide a record of traits in space and time that allows for investigation of abiotic and biotic factors that influence invasive species. Methods: Over 1100 digitized herbarium records were examined to investigate the invasion history and trait variation of Microstegium vimineum. Presence–absence of awns was investigated to quantify geographic patterns of this polymorphic trait, which serves several functions in grasses, including diaspore burial and dispersal to germination sites. Floret traits were further quantified, and genomic analyses of contemporary samples were conducted to investigate the history of M. vimineum's introduction and spread into North America. Results: Herbarium records revealed similar patterns of awn polymorphism in native and invaded ranges of M. vimineum, with awned forms predominating at higher latitudes and awnless forms at lower latitudes. Herbarium records and genomic data suggested initial introduction and spread of the awnless form in the southeastern United States, followed by a putative secondary invasion and spread of the awned form from eastern Pennsylvania. Awned forms have longer florets, and floret size varies significantly with latitude. There is evidence of a transition zone with short‐awned specimens at mid‐latitudes. Genomic analyses revealed two distinct clusters corresponding to awnless and awned forms, with evidence of admixture. Conclusions: Our results demonstrate the power of herbarium data to elucidate the invasion history of a problematic weed in North America and, together with genomic data, reveal a possible key trait in introduction success: presence or absence of an awn.


Barrett, Craig F.; Huebner, Cynthia D.; Bender, Zoe A.; Budinsky, Trezalka A.; Corbett, Cameron W.; Latvis, Maribeth; McKain, Michael R.; Motley, M'Kayla; Skibicki, Samuel V.; Thixton, Hana L.; Santee, Mathilda V.; Cumberledge, Aubrey N. 2022. Digitized collections elucidate invasion history and patterns of awn polymorphism in Microstegium vimineum. American Journal of Botany. 109(5): 689-705.


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